Currently, branding risks are failing for two reasons, both of which can be addressed by taking into account what brain science tells us about the importance of creating a connection with consumers.
Business has dutifully followed suit with a rational bias. In branding terms, this means companies that remain too product-focused, concentrating on functional, utilitarian benefits, which can easily be measured, monitored and understood.
However, thanks largely to the use of MRI brain scans, breakthroughs in neurobiology over the past 25 years have confirmed that people are primarily, even overwhelmingly, emotional decision-makers. How real the benefits of a product feel to consumers is actually the key.
An overwhelming amount of neurobiological evidence suggests that emotions are more significant than thought for successful marketing. Emotional reactions are 80% faster than cognitively filtered reactions to brand-related stimuli. So, original emotional reactions inevitably color our ‘rational’, non-objective secondary reaction.
Our brain consists of three separate brains, the original sensory brain, an emotional brain, and a rational brain – a very late addition in evolutionary terms from which verbal abilities stem. First mover advantage goes to the emotional brain, which sends 10 times the amount of data to the rational brain that it receives in return. It’s a trade imbalance, with the emotional brain serving as China, and the rational brain about as central to brain economy as Cuba.
Value is determined emotionally because our brain’s decision-making process returns to the emotional segment to ‘sign the cheque’. Only the sensory and the emotional parts of the brain connect to muscle activity. To translate branding efforts into sales, you should bear in mind that the rational brain is more like a lobbyist than a legislator: its role is simply to influence how the emotional brain will ‘vote’ on a potential purchase.
The second barrier is the industry’s obsession with monitoring brand equity almost entirely on the basis of brand awareness. In reality, awareness is passive and unconvincing, and merely provides a starting point. To be aware of a brand is not the same as being loyal to it. Indeed, awareness follows the pattern ‘I see it, I notice it’, which keeps the brand firmly in the role of ‘external object’, rather than a focus of desire, or product lust.
Ultimately, great brand equity is about having an emotional connection to a brand. Just being aware of the brand is inadequate because real equity is based on a response such as “I feel it and am inherently aware of it because the brand is my self”.
A company has achieved genuine equity when the pronoun shifts from a company-centric ‘it’ to ‘me’ and ‘us’. The brand as reflecting one’s own values and vision of self within one’s desired peer group.
The biggest, most common mistake made in branding is to imagine that the ‘what’ (the product) takes precedence over the ‘who’ (the consumer). Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of creating a long-term brand strategy.
Over-complex campaigns that rely on digital technology forget the simple truth; that even the most jaded heart still seeks to believe that it has found a reliable ally. You will know you have reached the point where there is an emotional bond when the stories consumers tell about your brand spontaneously involve the use of first-person pronouns, and are told with a burst of spontaneous feeling.
Above all else, remember that it is easiest to sell loyalty when the brand resonates with the consumer’s sense of self. When you address who people are, what they associate with, and what they do and value, you create an emotional connection so deep that consumers no longer think about what to buy.
Great brand worth becomes internalized and accepted as a reflection and extension of the consumer’s own beliefs. Fail to make an emotional connection, and you lose out, because value is determined emotionally. Brand attributes are like the claims related to a product. They are merely assertions unless the consumer’s emotional brain finds them valid and worth embracing.
By contrast, trust and faith are able to add intensity to the quality of branded offering, making them less subject to erosion – a point of particular importance in a time of economic uncertainty.
The bottom line is that consumer beliefs and brand equity go hand-in-hand because both are concerned with the long haul; they are about staying power.
Power that links a company to its target market of loyal buyers is possible to create, but the conduit through which it happens involves honoring each consumer’s ‘me’ rather than focusing on branding as simply a barrier to competition or a price booster and profit generator. In short, brands must appeal to consumers’ hearts to earn a place in their baskets.